Differential Social and Academic Effects of Developmentally Appropriate Practices and Beliefs

Article excerpt

Abstract. This investigation examined the prevalence of developmentally appropriate practices in the primary grades and the effects of teachers' developmentally appropriate beliefs and practices on 1st-grade students' social skills and academic achievement in the areas of language and mathematics. The participants were 293 first-grade students attending four inner-city public schools and their teachers. An instrument was administered to the teachers in order to measure the degree to which their beliefs and instructional practices reflect the tenets of developmentally appropriate practices. Academic achievement tests were administered to the 1st-grade students, and their social behavior was assessed using the Social Shills Rating Scale (Gresham & Elliott, 1990). The analyses examined differences in the academic achievement and social skills of students who were taught by teachers whose beliefs and practices were consistent with developmentally appropriate practices, developmentally inappropriate practices, and beliefs and practices that fell between appropriate and inappropriate on the assessment scale. The findings suggested that teachers' beliefs were not consistent with their practices. Students taught by teachers who held developmentally inappropriate beliefs had significantly higher scores on measures of language. Students whose teachers adopted practices that were neither appropriate nor inappropriate had significantly higher mathematical achievement scores. The results also indicated that both developmentally appropriate beliefs and practices were associated with positive social skill ratings of children by their teachers. The findings are discussed in terms of the lack of congruence between 1st-grade teachers' beliefs and classroom practices.

The publication of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statements on developmentally appropriate practices (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) has had a major impact on the field of early childhood education. These guidelines represent the consensus of opinion on the status of current knowledge and thinking in the field. According to the authors, developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a child-centered, cognitive developmental approach to early childhood education. The concept of developmental appropriateness can be separated into three dimensions: age, individual growthpatterns, and cultural factors. Rather than being dichotomous, the guidelines suggest that individual educational programs and classes fall along a continuum from more to less developmentally appropriate (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997).

Numerous school districts and individual schools have adopted policies that support the practices advocated in NAEYC's position statement. Indeed, many preschool and kindergarten programs exemplify developmentally appropriate practices. Recently, however, early childhood educators have begun to facilitate continuity among preschool, kindergarten, and the primary grades by promoting the extension of DAP to the primary grades (Goldstein, 1997; Holmes & Morrison, 1994; Jang & Mangione, 1994; Perlmutter & Burell, 1995). Whereas most practitioners would agree that informal learning and an integrated curriculum is appropriate for the preschool and kindergarten years, this preference is not as apparent when children in the primary grades are considered (Krogh, 1997). Furthermore, despite an abundance of theoretical support for the value of developmentally appropriate practice in the primary grades, there is a lack of empirical research to document its effects.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Developmentally appropriate practice, as defined in the NAEYG position statements (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), is based on a child-centered cognitive developmental perspective. Such a perspective is based on the notion that children learn by actively constructing their own knowledge through interacting with materials, peers, and adults. …